ASBMB member Yoshinori Ohsumi
wins Nobel Prize

Yoshinori Ohsumi

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to ASBMB member Yoshinori Ohsumi at the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Frontier Research Center for his pioneering work in discovering the mechanisms for autophagy.

Autophagy is the process for degrading and recycling cellular components. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden that gives out the prize said in a press release that Ohsumi deserved recognition for working out how cellular components were degraded and recycled. The Nobel Assembly noted in the press release that while the phenomenon of autophagy was known for more than 50 years, “its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi's paradigm-shifting research.”

“Dr. Ohsumi is a wonderful choice for this award. He is a dear and humble man who used the power of yeast genetics combined with microscopy and biochemistry to work out the entire, unexpected pathway of autophagy that is highly conserved from yeast to humans,” says former ASBMB president Suzanne Pfeffer at Stanford University. “This pathway is the membrane engulfment pathway by which cells degrade components that are no longer functional, and it is very important during development and in a number of disease states, such as neurodegeneration and pathogen defense.”

“Ohsumi is principally responsible for moving the phenomenological descriptive study of autophagy into a molecular mechanistic study. This pathway, as we know in mammalian cells, now touches every corner of the cell in terms of metabolism, regulation, control of viral and bacterial infection, and even the tumor potential of transformed cells, which is why he’s been properly recognized today,” says Nobel laureate Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley. “He’s a skilled biochemist too, so ASBMB should take pride in the recognition.”

—John Arnst